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Population Overload

This article forms the basis of a brochure, attached for download and printing, prepared by Roland Johnson for the Victorian and Tasmanian Branch of Sustainable Population Australia.

‘The modern plague of over population is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is …universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and the education of the billions of people who are its victims’. [1]
Photo: Martin Luther King, 1966 (revered symbol of human rights)

But powerful forces have opposed population control and the world’s population has more than doubled since 1966 to seven billion, with three billion desperately poor. Migration to rich countries is not a solution. Watch Roy Beck’s YouTube video , ‘World Poverty, Immigration and Gumballs’, to see why.

In the screenshot below, one gumball equals one million people; the tall jars represent the three billion poor. The wine glass holds five years’ migrant intake at one million a year (the current intake of the United States). Even if Australia took one million people a year (nearly four times our current intake) the numbers of the poor would continue to grow at around the rate of 80 million each year. [2] Besides, Australia’s immigrants are more middle class than poor.

Poor people desperately need help where they are, including with family planning. We must stabilise our numbers, both nationally and globally. Currently the world is finding it difficult to feed all of the seven billion already here. [4] It won’t get easier if the global population grows to 9.75 billion or more by 2050. [5]


From 2007-13 Australia’s net migration averaged over 230,000 p.a. which, added to an average annual natural increase of 157,000 p.a, meant growth of 387,000 p.a. and an annual growth rate of 1.8 per cent. [6] This is among the highest in the world. [7] It is destroying Australia’s ability to help the world’s poor and this growth will take us from 24 to 64 million in 2100. [8] It must stop some time.


A sustainable Australian population

Australia’s total fertility rate (TFR) is around 1.9 per woman, [9] technically below replacement— 2.1. But the population is still youthful. So we would keep growing due to natural increase until 2046, leveling off at 26 million. A policy to stabilise our population closer to 26 million rather than 64 million is needed.

The growth lobby of big business, developers and media moguls is forcing Australia’s growth to be among the fastest in the world. Our total increase of 387,000 a year is more than the population of Canberra (381,488 in 2013). [11] This growth is against the wishes of 70 per cent of voters. [12] Our 1.8 per cent p.a. exceeds Canada’s high 1.2 per cent & NZ’s 0.8 per cent. [13]

The Immigration Department is overloaded

Immigration Department files reveal “…enforcement capacity has collapsed…nine in ten skilled migrant visas may be fraudulent …[investigation into] a Somali people - smuggling cell linked to a terror suspect … ceased due to a lack of resources’. [14]

Two thirds of new arrivals are on some kind of working visas, which are issued by licensed agents subject to rorting and bribes. Many visa holders, through a well understood system of visa churning, eventually gain permanent residency. [15]

Immigration policy can be changed. Around 80,000 people leave Australia permanently each year. This means that we could have a refugee intake of 20,000 p.a., plus other special cases, and achieve nil, or at least very low, net migration.

Economic Costs

Dr Jane O’Sullivan’s submission to the Productivity Commission, re ‘Public Infrastructure Report’ shows that each new person added to the Australian population costs taxpayers over $100,000 in infrastructure. [16]

“[P]opulation growth and ageing will affect labour supply, economic output, infrastructure requirements and government budgets… Total private and public investment requirements over this 50 year period [to 2060] are estimated to be more than 5 times the cumulative investment made over the last half century…”

[17] Building the equivalent of a new Canberra every year is not cheap.

The Federal Government is dominated by the growth lobby and State governments compete for the prestige of a higher population. They promote immigration and advertise for immigrants. They rezone prime agricultural land for housing. Local governments then increase rates, which forces the famers off the land. Local councils also convert pleasant suburban streets to high-rise ghettos to collect more rates. The costs of the extra services are paid for by existing tax- and rate-payers.

Choking Cities

‘Population growth is great for business but governments can’t keep up. Roads are clogged and public transport is groaning. The health and education systems can’t cope with demand’. [18]


With many new workers and the loss of our manufacturing capacity, we are already unable to employ many of our young.

‘Between 2011 and 2014 the number of jobs increased by 400,000 but new migrants took 380,000. Some 240,000 more young Australians entered working age compared with those who retired, but they had to compete for only 20,000 extra jobs’. [20]


Australia looks big on the map but it’s an old, dry, infertile continent. Sprawling cities are taking some of our best land—land high on the two factors of good soil and reliable rainfall. (These are the areas shaded dark green on the map.) Much of Australia is marginal agricultural land (shaded yellow), and the greater part is unsuitable for any agriculture (shaded red).

Australia might be able to feed a domestic population of 60 million for a while, but this would leave us without food for export to pay for imports. A sustainable population must stay below 30 million; over that we start to sink to third-world standards.

Climate Change

Climate change will badly affect Australia’s agriculture with reduced irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin and marginal land becoming arid. The so-called inexhaustible Great Artesian Basin is now declining. The idea of Australia as the food bowl of Asia is a myth!


Iron ore reserves were once thought to be almost inexhaustible. But all of the high grade, easily accessed mineral deposits in Australia have been mined out and energy consumption in mining has increased by 450 per cent in the last 40 years. [21] We are one of the world’s largest exporters of LNG, but this leaves little for the local market. [22] In order to find more, pressure for fracking access to coal-seam gas builds up. This risks polluting underground water and increasing food insecurity.


While all Australians pay the cost of population growth, big business profits from it. Their self interest in growth is understandable. But it is unconscionable that politicians, most journalists and many academics support them. (See ‘How the Growth Lobby Threatens Australia’s Future’, James Sinnamon.) [23]

The growth lobby finds ways to silence its critics. In the USA the prestigious Sierra Club was given $100 million on the understanding that it would not continue to oppose the one million p.a. migrating to America. [24]

The slur of racism by the growth lobby has stifled the population debate.


Martin Luther King understood the cost of growth. Was he a racist?

‘I don't think slowing the rate of growth is blaming immigration or ethnic communities’
(Voula Messimeri, Chairwoman of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia). [25]

Immigrants also suffer the effects of population growth. Poor migrants suffer the most.

The lobby promotes the fear of an ageing population

But the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that ‘Even large difference in the level of net immigration will have a relatively small impact on the age distribution’. [26]

Natural increase is still strong so our population would not decline without net migration. Immigration makes us bigger, not younger. Besides the aged contribute to society in many ways—ways worth billions of dollars. [27]

What about humanitarianism?

Australia’s policies serve the growth lobby, not the greater good. There is no virtue in luring away the best and brightest from poor nations. Australia poaches doctors and nurses from developing nations to service the huge rise in our population. We take about 1000 doctors and 2800 nurses a year. How many more come on temporary or 457 visas?

Most of Australia’s migrants come for economic reasons; this is no way to help the world’s poor. We should accept refuges and provide desperate women of the third world—who procreate even when their children are starving—with the means of family planning.


‘Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it’s time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment’. [28]

Sir David Attenbourough (celebrated conservationist)

The World Wildlife Fund reported in 2014 that the world wildlife population had been halved between 1970 and 2010. The human population doubled in the same peroiod contributing directly to 82 per cent of the loss of wild life. [29]

We are already destroying the environment by overstocking our poor soils, habitat destruction and deforestation all of which causes soil loss and salination. We are doing this in 2015 to support nearly 24 million people. What would we do to support 64 million?


Global warming is our greatest immediate threat and as Figure 3 shows, Greenhouse gases increase with the world’s population.

And Australia’s per capita emissions are the highest in the OECD. [31]

Our responsibility to other people, those now living and those yet to be born, and our responsibility to other species, all mean that Australia must curb its runaway population growth. The world must slow down and stabilise too.

Prepared by Roland Johnson for Sustainable Population Australia Vic/Tas.

This material is available in pdf form for downloading and printing here: Population Flyer cropped.pdf


[1] tp:// 18 January 2015
[2] Roy Beck, World Poverty, Immigration and Gumballs The Population Reference Bureau’s annual World population data sheet shows a world population of 7.238 billion in mid 2014 and 1.137 billion in mid 2013, an estimated increase of 101 million people, 98 million of this increase in less developed countries. See
[3] Roy Beck, op. cit.
[4] Paddy Manning, ‘“Global” risks on food security mean us too’, The Age, 3 December 2011, p. 16
[5] The United Nations’ projections for 2050 include 9.746 billion (medium), 16.218 (medium high) and 24.834 billion (high).tp:// 18 January 2015
[6] Data on growth calculated from the ABS, Demographic Statistics, Catalogue no. 3101.0 various issues. The average NOM for 2007 to 2013 was 237,000 pa and the average annual growth rate was 1.81 per cent
[7] See World Bank accessed 18 January 2015
[8] Projection series 20, published online with, Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013), Population Projections, Australia, 2012 (Base) to 2101, Catalogue no. 3222.0.
[9] The average total fertility rate from 2008-09 to 2013-14 was 1.9085. Calculated from ABS, Demographic Statistics, Catalogue no. 3101.0, June 2014, p. 39.
[10] See ibid.
[11] ABS, Demographic Statistics, July 2014, Catalogue no. 3101.0, p. 26
[12] Katharine Betts (2010), ‘A bigger Australia: opinions for and against’, People and Place 18(2), pp. 25-38
[13] World Bank data bank
[14] Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, ‘Terror touches down’, The Age, 7 August 2014, pp. 1, 4.
[15] See Dr. R Birrell, Sydney Morning Herald online , 7 August 2014.

[16] Jane O’Sullivan (2014), ‘Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Infrastructure provision and funding in Australia’, p. 3
[17] Productivity Commission (2013). An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future — Overview. Melbourne, Productivity Commission, p. 2
[18] Alan Kohler, ‘Healthcare and infrastructure spend tearing budget apart’, The Australian, 6 May 2014, p. 30
[19] Source: Department of Infrastructure and Transport, Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport, Road vehicle-kilometres travelled: estimated from state and territory fuel sales, Report 124, Canberra, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, 2011, pp. 372-3
[20] Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy (2014), Immigration and Unemployment in 2014,/em>. Monash University, Melbourne, Centre for Population and Urban Research
[21] Simon Michaux (2014) ‘The coming radical change in mining practice’ in Jenny Goldie and Katharine Betts (Eds) Sustainable Futures: Linking population, resources and the environment, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria, pp. 75-76
[22] See ‘Reform needed to minimise LNG export impact on manufacturers: report’, ,em>Gas Today
, 24 July 2014 accessed 25 November 2014
James Sinnamon, "How the growth lobby threatens Australia's future."

Kenneth R. Weiss, ‘The man behind the land’, Los Angeles Times 27 October 2004
Quoted in Mark O'Connor and William Lines (2008), Overloading Australia: How governments and media dither and deny on population, Envirobooks, Sydney, p. 145
ABS (2000), Projections of the Populations of Australia, States and Territories: 1999-2101, Catalogue no. 3222.0, p. 2
For more on the benefits (and costs) of demographic ageing see Katharine Betts (2014), The ageing of the Australian population: triumph or disaster?, Centre for Population and Urban Research, Monash University accessed 25 November 14
Living Planet Report 2014 accessed 25 November 2014
Population data are from United Nations Department of economic and social affairs ; Carbon emissions data are from Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC)
The Garnaut Climate Change Review, Chapter 7, ‘Australia’s emissions in a global context’ 2008, updated in 2011


The Australian Conservation Foundation Council votes to implicitly support 'Big Australia’.
The Independent Australian:The Australian Conservation Foundation Council votes to implicitly support 'Big Australia’
ACF members were invited to the AGM held on 21st November 2014 at 6pm with the promise of meeting the new president, Mr Geoffrey Cousins, a prominent business man on the board of Telstra, and successful environmental activist who played hardball in successful campaigns against the Gunns paper pulp mill in Tasmania and the James Price Point gas project in the Kimberley. However, the connection between Australia's third world rate of population growth and environmental stress/degradation hasn't linked in their logic.
The ACF Council then met the next day. The council consists of 35 members elected by state and territory members for a fixed term of three years.
Mr Mark O'Connor, an ACT delegate, (who co-authored with William Lines the book Overloading Australia: How Governments and Media Dither and Deny on Population ) urged the ACF to speak out against the environmental costs of Australia’s rapid population growth and to call for a referendum on population. He moved a motion that Australia reduce immigration levels to 70,000 per year, rather than the 240,000 and 1.8 % growth we have now.
Many delegates spoke against the motion. Cousins was against the motion. It was defeated 21 to 7 with abstentions. The names of those voting were recorded. The desire to be PC is overwhelmingly stronger than logic, or any desire for real "conservation"!
Previous president, Professor Ian Lowe was none too subtly opposed the motion. He said that a slogan like “ 'Reduce Immigration' would probably be interpreted, without the sort of qualification that I have just written, as supporting a view that migrants pose problems while people born here don’t!
Overwhelmingly, it's migration that contributes to our population growth!
It's not "migrants" verses Australian-born that should be voted on, but population growth! They diverted and hijacked the argument totally!

In the book Australian Public Policy: progressive ideas in the neo-liberal ascendancy , Lowe has a chapter (p.239) in which he writes that the reason for the defeat was that the motion (to reduce immigration) would be perceived as discriminatory. Discriminatory against who? We should open our borders? The "C" in ACF should be changed to a "B A" for advocates of "Big Australia" and big corporate profits!

The Australians of future generations who will be forced to take on the challenges of an over-populated country, with depleting resources and lost natural heritage?

The ACF are trying to outmaneuver pot-holes created by their own lack of logic, and inconsistency. No doubt the ACF’s illogical and contradictory policy to ignore their own recommendations on reducing immigration rates is about ensuring government funding! No doubt they don’t want to ruffle any feathers, and still keep their jobs!

With the Australian economy riding on high population growth, it’s obviously contrary to any environmental conservation aims, and can’t be sustained economically, or ecologically!

Any “environmental” or planning organisation without a robust population policy is impotent, and internally flawed by contradictions and vested interests.

This has been going on for more than 20 years with the ACF. They have become a shelter for professionals seeking funding. They trade dishonestly on old credentials, like the Sierra Club. Most NGOs are like that. At least what you read is what you get with a loose association of people under a banner, like

As for Prof Lowe - sad if true, but can't say I'm surprised, given his mainstream status. However he is a patron for SPA and SPA doesn't resile from criticising the major source of overpopulation in Australia, which is immigration.

Curious spinelessness, like so many things in the politics of populations or in all politics.

Sheila I concur with your sentiments to the extent that e-mailed the ACF informing them of my disgust on their stance on population and the environment. Below is their "position" on population and it's a doozy:

ACF position on population and consumption
ACF believes that the unsustainable consumption of resources by a large and growing human population is at the core of most environmental problems facing Australia and the world. We believe it is essential that human population numbers and consumption patterns be brought within nature’s limits, and that this goal can be accomplished consistently with the values of justice, equity and respect for social and cultural systems.
The policy articulating ACF’s position on matters relating to human populations and demographic change can be found here.
In summary, ACF calls on the Federal Government to set a population policy that will:
• stabilise Australia’s population and resource use to ecologically sustainable levels;
• drive adequate infrastructure for the environmental consequences of demographic changes in Australian population settlement and distribution;
• develop and fund strategies that minimise the environmental impact of population growth and maximise biodiversity outcomes;
• maintain healthy regional and remote communities that include aboriginal communities and actively working on reducing Indigenous demographic disadvantage;
• assist other nations to achieve population stabilisation and ecologically sustainable lifestyles through non-coercive, holistic development programs;
• encourage migration policy that fulfils environmental, social and ethical obligations, rather than perceived economic needs.
ACF advocates for population policies that put ecological sustainability first, however we do not run dedicated campaigns on this issue at this time. This is for two reasons.
The first is because we believe that population growth is global issue with most of the world’s population growth occurring outside Australia. Our belief is supported by the following:
• The United Nations predicts that half of future global population growth to 2050 is expected in just 10 nations - US, India and central and northern African nations.
• Australia’s current birth rates are 1.9 children per family and are below replacement rates, meaning Australia’s population growth from birth is in decline.
As an Australian environment organisation, ACF has limited ability to affect global population dynamics, although we are supportive of those internationally focused organisations that are influential on this issue.
The second reason is that ACF has a responsibility to focus its resources on issues where we can have a significant environmental benefit for Australia. This includes consumption of natural resources and the resulting environmental impacts and pollution.
Australians have one of the highest ecological footprints on earth per person, 13th out of 152 countries included in WWF’s 2014 Living Planet Report. The report shows that ecological footprints in high income countries like Australia are significantly higher than medium and lower income countries because of consumption patterns. The same report shows that carbon pollution, mainly from burning fossil fuels, has been the dominant component of humanity’s ecological footprint for more than half a century, and remains on an upward trend. In Australia, carbon pollution makes up over half of our ecological footprint, highlighting the need for decisive action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
ACF is addressing this threat through our Energy Revolution campaign to accelerate the shift from polluting fuels such as coal and gas to renewable energy. Achieving this will halve Australia’s ecological footprint and environmental impact and, through reducing export of fossil fuels, the emissions of trading partners. This will be a significant and transformation outcome which is why it is the focus of our efforts.
ACF campaigns on another major driver of unsustainability - the Australian economy – which is one of the most resource intensive and polluting economies of all developed nations. Our campaign aims to shift that economy to one that regenerates natural capital rather than deplete it which will require significant transition to economic policy in Australia and of course how we measure progress.
It is important that ACF continues to raise concerns about unsustainable population growth, however our limited resources require us to focus on the issues where we can make the biggest difference.
Having said that, ACF believes that it is important to challenge ourselves and our thinking to focus on what matters the most to Australia’s environment. Over 2015-16 ACF is reviewing the drivers of unsustainability in Australia and the pathways towards sustainability, and we will use this information to inform our future campaigns. This way we will be sure to focus on the major contributors to unsustainability in Australia and decline of our natural resources, and form campaigns to build a sustainable country.

You're right, they are spineless, their ignorance is appalling!

There seems to be a large chasm between official ACF policy and what they actually support!
Australia may have below-replacement fertility levels, but our population growth is overwhelmingly driven by immigration rates, at about 60% of our growth. The other 40% "natural" growth (of births over deaths) will also be highly influenced by immigration levels too. It's a political decision, with bipartisan agreement.
Australia can hardly address the rapid and impoverishing levels of population growth in developing countries while our own economy and GDP has become irrevocably linked to population growth!
"Ecologically sustainable" is too vague, subjective and unquantifiable. Already we have the highest rate of mammal extinctions of the modern world. Even our flagship species, such as koalas, are dwindling in numbers because of competition for resources.
As for consumption levels, Australia has great climate variations, of cold to extreme heat. This means the use of power for air conditioners and heating. It's inherent in a country that was never meant to support a high population.
Australia, the driest continent, now has 6 (?) desalination plants, consuming massive amounts of energy and emitting copious greenhouse gas emissions. Living in high rise apartments will further increase base consumption levels, through loss of natural vegetation and being a slave to switches and inside power.
We might be able to reduce and recycle on individual levels, but absolute "consumption" levels will only continue to rise. Migrants who come here must adopt our lifestyle, and this means projecting our population towards 70 million by the end of the century - unless the greedy "big Australia" policy is faced head-on! No conservation or environmental organisation can ignore the elephant-in-the-room of high population growth without hypocrisy.

No it’s not true. Ian Lowe had already stepped down when Mark O'Connor moved a motion on population in November.

He did oppose an earlier motion, by Geoff Mosely, that the ACF advocate for the last federal election that people write in a particular slogan “Reduce immigration”— perhaps because he felt it was too closely associated with a particular person and and his oddities.

Ian’s view on population have not changed.

Sheila, You might want to alter that item. Editor: Okay. Thanks. That 'reduce immigration' thing is becoming a divisive factor on the population front. People don't mind doing it, they just don't want to be associated with the driving personality.